In the years that I have been coaching people to achieve their maximum potential with their health, fitness and physique, there’s a pattern that I’ve noticed emerging that derails a lot of the best efforts amongst even the most hard-working of clients.
I could sit here right now and wax lyrical about the evils of excessive take-away food, alcohol, or inconsistent training, but this isn’t always the problem. I’ve had clients come to me for their monthly measurements, not get results as big as they were hoping for, and start to beat themselves up about that one take-away pizza they had last month. Maximising your results is an ongoing process, but one take-away pizza in four or five weeks isn’t likely to be enough to derail you by itself. Neither is one solitary missed gym session. Nonetheless, it’s always these transgressions that people look to first.
My experience though, is that whilst consistency of training and a high quality nutrition plan is essential, one very occasional deviation from that plan isn’t going to be enough to throw your month of results away. There’s something else going on, and it’s likely something that’s being done with the best of intentions. Something like failing to feed a hungry body because less food means more weight loss, or eating a big bowl or “healthy” muesli for breakfast every day.
If there’s one type of food I see contribute to these well-intended deviations from a well-balanced nutrition plan more than any other, though, it’s definitely fruit. I am most certainly not against the consumption of fruit, in fact, in just a few paragraphs I’m going to be including some recommendations on types of fruit to eat, but I do think that fruit tends to be misunderstood and misused.
Fruit itself is unlikely to make you fat, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a contributory factor in your limited results.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. When I’m talking about fruit, I’m talking about actual, real fruit. Anything that doesn’t look like it did when it grew is almost certainly not fruit. Examples of this include Cherry Ripes (yes, a client once justified consumption of one of these to me with the words, “but it’s fruit?” No, it’s not fruit), or anything with “Made With Real Fruit Juice” written on the packet. Or almost anything with a packet, come to that.
Equally important, but sometimes less obvious, is fruit juice. Even the stuff that’s made from nothing but fruit is a problem for a number of reasons. First of all, have you ever seen how much juice comes out of a single orange? Even a very juicy one? It’s not a lot. So when you fill your glass high with fresh orange juice, that’s a huge number of oranges worth of sugar you’ve just poured in. Combine that with the fact that a lot of the fibre that might regulate the sugar absorption has been removed from the equation and you have a huge, unnecessary sugar hit. That’s not going to help, is it? The only argument I hear from people that this line of reasoning doesn’t account for is that they drink it for the vitamin c. My response to that is this; first of all, the reputation that citrus has for vitamin c levels doesn’t come from the fact that it’s high in vitamin c, it comes from the fact that it can be stored for a long period of time without going bad. In spite of the fact that many fruits like berries and chilis contain more vitamin c than citrus fruit, sailors took citrus to sea to ward off scurvy because they would last longer than other alternatives. This, much like the whole “carrots are good for your night-vision” thing is a mis-perception with just enough truth to make it feasible that oranges are the big boy on the block. Secondly, your body doesn’t store much in the way of vitamin c, so a small amount on a regular basis is much more beneficial to it than a lot in one large hit, most of which will just be used as a waste product.
The last addition to this list is dried fruit. A lot of the nutritional value of fruit is contained within its water. When you dry fruit out, you remove a chunk of the nutritional value, but you leave the sugar content intact. This means the same amount of sugar is now wrapped up in a much smaller and less nutritious package. That doesn’t sound great, does it?
Finally, let’s say you are eating fruit in its raw form, and have successfully dodged the pitfalls listed above. How and when are you eating it? As I said before, an apple is unlikely to make you fat, it contains lots of great nutrients, soluble fibre, and only about ten grams of fructose, which is a not-unreasonable upward limit as part of your daily carbohydrate intake.
An apple, however, also doesn’t contain any protein, so if it’s the only thing you’re having for your mid-afternoon snack, you’re pretty much sending your body the message that it’s okay for it to spend the hours between lunch and dinner breaking down the muscle you worked so hard to pack on. Whatever you do, don’t neglect the protein in favour of a piece of fruit.
So, now you know how to eat it, what fruits should you be looking towards? Personally, I favour the following:
Apricots – These are surprisingly low in calories, with a little fibre and plenty of antioxidants.
Blueberries – These little balls of blue goodness have the highest concentrations of antioxidant and anti-inflammatories on the planet.
Cantaloupe – For a good dose of Potassium and vitamin A.
Figs (seasonally) – Have vitamin B6, calcium and iron. They’re high in sugar, but high in fibre, which brings down their glycemic index. This is a good thing.
Mango – Have a much higher water content than you’d expect, and they’re full of Potassium, Vitamin A and Beta-carotene.
Dark fruits – particularly berries, are full of anthocyanins, which counter inflammation and reduce muscle soreness. If you’re going to eat grapes, eat red grapes. They’re full of tannins, antioxidants, and resveratrol. Eat the seeds too.
Kiwi and dark stone fruits – are full of cancer reducing nutrients.
Pineapple – helps support enzyme function and restore cellular activity.
There you go. You know what to eat, you know how to eat it. Now go forth and make gains unhindered by good but misinformed intentions.
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